SPUG: Why aren't they hiring?

dancerboy dancerboy at strangelight.com
Fri Nov 16 03:55:18 CST 2001

At 9:54 AM -0800 11/15/01, James Moore wrote:
>  > The last time I got interviewed by an actual developer, they asked me
>>  such basic questions that I don't know how they could possibly have
>>  differentiated my answers from those of any of the other candidates.
>>  They had me write a "hello world" CGI script in Perl.
>I'm guessing you haven't done a whole lot of interviewing as in hiring, not
>looking for a job.  You'd be completely astonished at how often people can't
>solve the most trivial programming questions in interviews.

Don't get me wrong: I completely understand *starting* with simple 
questions.  My gripe was that, after demonstrating minimal technical 
competence, I felt that the interview didn't give me an opportunity 
to differentiate myself from any of the other minimally-competent 
candidates that they interviewed. (Though again, I acknowledge 
partial responsibility for not taking the initiative to do that 
differentiating on my own, regardless of what questions I got asked.)

At 10:29 AM -0800 11/15/01, Patterson, David S (Pat) wrote:
>I've done quite a bit of technical interviewing
>(ending about 9 months ago, sadly). Personally
>I don't like to give programming problems.  I've
>found that the only thing this accomplishes is to
>induce a great deal of anxiety in the interviewee.

As an interviewer, I think the key to reducing the anxiety-level in 
an interview is to explain as carefully as possible, with every 
question, *why* you're asking that question, what sort of things 
you're looking for, and especially what sort of things you're *not* 
looking for.  For me, when I'm being interviewed, the anxiety usually 
comes from being given vague questions which could be answered in 
many different ways, and not knowing what sort of information the 
interviewer is actually looking for.  For example, if I'm given a 
programming problem and no other information, I have no idea whether 
I'm being judged simply on my ability to understand the spec, or on 
the efficiency of my code, or its legibility, or on just how much of 
the perldoc I know by heart, or whether I can find the most 
"perl-ish" solutions (e.g. using map() instead of foreach() in 
situations where either will work just as well), or my ability to 
explain what I'm doing in plain English, or my willingness to ask for 
further guidance, or... what?

If I were going to ask a candidate to write some code, for example, I 
would first ask them what their preferred Perl reference works were: 
the Camel book?  typing perldoc at a shell prompt?  www.perl.com?  I 
would then try to make as many of those resources available as I 
could, and make it very clear that I didn't expect them to have the 
perldoc memorized, only that they know how to look up whatever 
information they need.  *Then* I would ask them to code quicksort 
using nothing but scalars, or whatever. (And I would explain the 
quicksort algorithm, too: that's not something I would expect a 
candidate to have memorized either.)

It's also important to keep in mind that even very experienced 
programmers may have very different backgrounds than you:  you may be 
surprised how many things that you consider "basic" and that "any 
Perl programmer would know" are in fact fairly obscure, and only seem 
ubiquitous because of the peculiarities of the development work you 
yourself have done.  In fact, certain kinds of ignorance are a sign 
of *greater* experience, not less:  I've been doing web dev for years 
and years now.  But interviewers often have a hard time believing 
that I'm a competent web developer, because I know very little about 
using CGI.pm.  The fact is, when I started doing web dev, there *was* 
no CGI.pm -- or at least it wasn't part of the standard Perl 
distribution -- so I had to roll my own solutions, solutions which I 
still use in lieu of CGI.pm (whose API I really dislike, but that's 
another thread).


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